Google, Gmail, Blogger.com and YouTube: customer ‘service’

Posted by Tim Ireland at 25 February 2010

Category: Teh Interwebs

This entry was posted on
Thursday, February 25th, 2010
at
11:59 am and is filed
under Teh Interwebs.

[NOTE – Gmail is a free email service provided by Google. Pyra Labs (Blogger.com) was acquired by Google in 2003, YouTube in 2006.]

Evening Standard – Google bosses convicted over abuse video of Down’s syndrome boy

Google today vowed to appeal, saying in a statement: “We are deeply troubled by this conviction, it attacks the very principles of freedom on which the internet is built.”

Two executives, David Drummond and Peter Fleischer, and former employee George Reyes were accused of negligence. Prosecutors said the video remained online for two months even though some web users had posted comments asking for it to be taken down.

Judge Oscar Magi absolved the three of defamation and acquitted a fourth defendant altogether.

Mr Drummond, who is Google’s chief legal officer, vowed to fight his conviction. He said: “I am outraged by the decision … If individuals like myself and my Google colleagues who had nothing to do with the harassing incident, its filming or its uploading onto Google Video can be held criminally liable solely by virtue of our positions at Google every employee of any internet hosting service faces similar liability.”

The case stems from an incident in 2006 when four boys in Turin filmed and uploaded a 191-second clip of them bullying a schoolmate with Down’s syndrome. It shows the youths making fun of the boy, before punching and kicking him. One of the attackers then makes a mocking call to Viva Down, an advocacy group for people with Down’s syndrome. The complaint was brought by the charity and the boy’s father. “The video was totally reprehensible and we took it down within hours of being notified by the Italian police,” Google said.

And there’s your weak spot, hiding in that sentence right there; it took the involvement of police to get the video removed, after months of people complaining about it. The core deceit here is that Google is talking about the things they are not responsible for under a flag of internets freedom, while neatly brushing over what they are responsible for.

Google failed in their duty to this individual and the public in general because their facilities for reporting abuse of their publishing/communications facilities are inadequate. Further, I am about to show you that they are aware of this but do not care.

Over the past year, I’ve been subjected to a planned campaign of harassment that has involved the repeated publication of my ex-directory home address, directed at people thought to be hostile towards me. The purpose of this is to cause me fear of violence if not actual harm.

The following is a claim from an executive who works for Google about their response time for things like this:

“Regarding the removal of confidential data: once it’s brought to our attention, we make every attempt to respond right away, and in no event longer than 48 hours.”

Now, let’s take a look at their actual response times:

YouTube

My home address was submitted as a comment under a series of YouTube videos on 27 September, 2009. When these comments were deleted, the address was instead posted on the profile page for the relevant account (which was in turn promoted by the good people at Kooba Radio and Redwire Design). Despite immediate then repeated complaints to YouTube through their ‘support’ systems, then by email and fax, the account stayed live for days that stretched into weeks and then months. It wasn’t until I got in touch at an executive level (and believe me, these contact details are NOT easy to find) that anything was done about it. Even then, Google claimed the account was suspended immediately on January 15, 2009 when it was still live on the morning of January 21, 2010… even the delay after the delay was longer than 48 hours.

In total, I was left waiting 3 months and 26 days… just short of 4 months.

Further, the page ‘removed’ by Blogger.com/Google staff is still visible in Google’s search database today (25 February, 2010), which brings our total response time for Google as a whole to 4 months and 29 daysand counting. More on this point in a moment.

Blogger.com

On 30 September, 2009 my home address was published on a Blogger.com-hosted account under the headline “Tim Ireland the internet stalker” with a claim that I had “smeared, picked fights with or stalked” a long list of people including Nadine Dorries, Iain Dale and Paul Staines. Again, immediate then repeated complaints were ignored for days that stretched into weeks and then months. Cleverly, Blogger.com refuse to tell me exactly when this account was suspended, suggesting it’s a matter of privacy (what?!), so I would be unable to give you a complete response time if it weren’t for the fact that this ‘removed’ page also remained live in Google’s search database until sometime after January 17, 2010

Total response time for Google: a minimum of 3 months, 21 days

In both cases, content was removed by one arm of Google while it remained live under the auspices of another. There does not appear to be any kind of synergy or alert system in place that ensures removal of inappropriate content from Google’s search database after it has been removed (by Google staff) from Blogger.com or YouTube; it’s like some bizarre parody of Communist Russia that forces me to join one queue for bread and another for butter. Why is there no standard channel of communication between abuse teams that addresses this issue?

(Incidentally, Blogger.com continue to host ~50 false claims that I’m a convicted paedophile and refuse to remove them, citing freedom of speech. They do not recognise the danger a public accusation of paedophilia represents in this nation of tabloid ‘justice’, and now refuse to discuss the matter.)

Gmail

On 20 November, 2009 a threat was issued that someone planned to use a Gmail account to pass my personal data onto Nigerian/Russian scammers. The threat alone was a clear violation of their Terms of Service, so this was reported to Gmail immediately . No action was taken, even after December 26, 2009 when multiple emails began from this account clearly impersonating me while forwarding sensitive/confidential data such as my home address.

On January 15, 2010 this matter was raised with Rick Klau, Business Product Manager at Blogger (yes, the same person who refused to tell me when that Blogger account was disabled). Initially, Rick was kind enough to pass my concerns on to YouTube, but the Gmail matter took a little longer. In fact, it wasn’t addressed until February 10, 2010 (almost a month later) when Rick was busy giving me the brush-off. Instead of passing my concerns on to Gmail, he directed me to this generic support portal.

See what I mean about queues for bread and butter? He knew I had to wait months for a response from Blogger and YouTube and Gmail, it was within his power to move/pass things along to Gmail just as he did with YouTube, but instead he directed me to join the queue and start again!

The relevant account was still live on 20 February, 2010 (and is probably still live today).

Total response time for Google: a minimum of 3 monthsand counting. I’ve not heard a word back from Gmail about any of it.

(There is also an account that may have been used to impersonate me from 06 October, 2009 onwards. Verifying if this account exists myself involves engaging with the people harassing me, which the police have advised me not to do, so on Jan 15 I asked Rick Klau to ask Gmail about it. So far, I’ve heard nothing back about this, either.)

Google

Rick Klau is not the only person at Google who is aware of this. The wider matter (including many specifics) has also been brought to the attention of Oliver Rickman, Manager of Google UK Communications and Public Affairs, and Rachel Whetstone, Vice President of Communications for Google (Europe).

I have tried to alert Google to an entirely insufficient approach to abuse of their facilities and have been given the brush-off at an executive level.

In other words, Google know that their response time for abuse is far from adequate, they have repeatedly turned a blind eye to this problem, and I can prove it.

To close, here is the last letter I sent to Rick Klau:

from Tim Ireland
to Rick Klau
date Thu, Feb 18, 2010 at 4:28 PM
subject Re: Blogger and comments mentioning you

Rick, let me explain where your perspective may be letting you down:

You don’t think any people/police have had issues reaching you because 100% of the people who’ve made contact with you managed to … make contact with you. Do I actually have to point out that this isn’t an entirely representative sample? You appear to be turning a blind eye to the possibility that there are people who have failed to make contact with your department and you may not know about this because…. they haven’t made contact with your department.

I can tell you now for a fact that anyone submitting a police complaint involving anonymous online harassment has to do a lot of legwork themselves or risk letting their tormentor(s) off the hook. It was certainly the case in the investigation relevant to the attacks on me (many of which you inexplicably continue to host).

In fact, police would have been unaware of the role played by another man if I’d not pursued a number of providers personally. I found it was up to the victim to gather most of the evidence; mainly what the police brought to the table was the authority to reveal names behind IP/email addresses. I stand by my criticism of Google and their failure/refusal to cooperate with my efforts to halt this harassment and I reject your attempt to suggest that it all would’ve gone much smoother had the police simply contacted you through the usual channels, thought it important, etc. In fact, I take offence at this or any other attempt to belittle me or downplay what I have been through.

You assure me that Google’s response time for ‘sensitive data’ matters is measured in hours, when I have shown you that it has been – across the board, in my experience – more a matter of weeks and months. Well over 3 months in one example you are aware of.

(On this note, I’m disappointed you would assure me of the adequacy of your response time on Blogger.com but refuse to go on the record about the specific date you actually managed to get around to deleting the blog in question.)

Then, rather than take my concerns seriously, you seek to give me the brush off, pretend that it’s none of your concern, and direct me back to the automated channels that let me down so badly in the first place.

I am trying to tell you that that Google is failing to protect vulnerable people. I am trying to alert you to a widespread failure of your system to address harassment in a timely manner.

Are you seriously going to ignore those warnings and file it under ‘not my problem’?

If you genuinely don’t feel you are qualified/authorised to speak on the wider matter of Google failing victims of harassment, then please pass me on to someone who is.

Immediately, please. Google has kept me waiting long enough.

Tim Ireland

I’m sure you’ll be shocked to hear that a week has passed since I sent this, and there’s been no response from anyone at Google.

UPDATE – Malcolm Coles – Why Italy was right to find Google guilty








4 Comments

  1. Guy Gooberman says

    Tim, excellent post and I could not agree more, I have had my own struggles with the Google leviathan to get them to remove impersonation blogs and spoof websites and offensive comments such as you have experienced.It is so frustrating, you feel as if you're hitting a huge brick wall and they never, ever stick to their time guidelines for the removal of offensive material.Good luck, you have my full support as always.

  2. Julaybib says

    Yet the Ahmaddiya movement seem to be able to have videos criticising them removed from YouTube in a flash, even where such criticism is fair and based on the movements own writings! Based on the experience of one blogger who fell foul of Ahmaddiya's censorious policy, I think it all depends on how good your lawyers are.

  3. Manic says

    Cheers, DHG.Yes, I'm familiar with that brick wall. The most alarming thing, though, is when you finally get past that to a human being or two, and it still doesn't make much difference. Poor show from Google, across the board.Still no response from them, BTW.

  4. Manic says

    Hey, Julaybib. Sorry, I missed your comment, automatically held over for moderation.I once uploaded a video with some nipples in it, and YouTube removed it without warning within hours. They appear to have some odd priorities.Perhaps if that poor boy's dad had been a bit richer, or if his tormentors had attacked him while topless…

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